Reviewer: Frederic Beudot
Financial interests: click here
Digital Source: Auraliti PK90 USB file player, SOtM sDP-1000EX
Headphone amplifier: Burson Conductor, Musical Fidelity Xcan V3
Cables: Zu Varial, Ocellia RCA cables
Power cords: Zu Mother, Ocellia power cables, Absolute Fidelity power cables
Powerline conditioning: Isotek Nova
Review component retail: $2'999

Let's cut to the chase, shall we? In a world of $20 earbuds, $3'000 headphones (insert any other dollar value with four or more digits for your amusement) are simply insane. Surely they can't be anything but another form of delusion for audiophools looking for new and creative ways to be parted with their ill-gotten gains. Right? Let's take a left instead and assess the performance of a finely tuned headphone system against its similarly priced speaker-based counterparts. Suddenly you realize that you'd need to spend far more on the room alone, never mind the gear, to start approaching the intimacy and low-level detail retrieval headphones are capable of.

That's very much the realization which hit me after we'd moved for the eleventh time in twenty years. Our new house in Indiana is the most beautiful we have owned, with 25-foot ceilings throughout the living space and hardwood floors in every single room. It's a phenomenal setup with floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room overlooking the backyard. Except that this beauty is completely unsuitable for critical audio listening even with carpets and furniture in place. All I'd be reviewing is how well any given piece of gear interacts with walls, ceilings and floors that contribute more to the final sound than any other piece of equipment I own. If I can't hear the difference between a pair of Zu Essence and Ocellia speakers because the room's response overwhelms their respective qualities, how can I pretend to be reviewing gear in a way that would have value to anyone?

Enter headphones, the saviours of the echo-prone audiophile - and more specifically, very high-end headphones like those under review today. I strongly recommend you first read Srajan's introduction to Final and the Sonorous X because a lot of what he had to say about them applies to the slightly more affordable VIII. Although price point and nomenclature clearly indicate that the X remains the current dynamic alpha dog in the Final line and rightly so—I had a day to spend with a colleague's X—the difference between the two is as much of tonal flavor and build material as it is of absolute performance. Almost regardless of price, the VIII will suit some listeners' tastes better than the X and vice versa. But first things first. The experience one goes through when taking delivery of a Sonorous VIII or X is unmatched by any brand I have had the pleasure to review. The headphones shipped directly from Japan arrived in no less than five layers of protective boxes, the last one being a tight fitting wooden box lined with faux white fur. Each connector and metallic part was individually wrapped for protection. It forces you to enjoy the unboxing process, whether you want to rush it or not. The artisans at Final took a lot of pride in getting your headphones ready. It shows in every detail and each one of your senses will participate in the opening process, including a painful scream when you stab your finger trying to undo one of those highly resistant plastic wraps with a poorly handled pair of scissors.